- Published on Saturday, 22 October 2011 06:49
- Category: Art
In life, obstacles arise that test the ability of people to carry on. Some individuals have met with more than their fair share of tribulations. But some come away from such experiences galvanized and ready to tackle new challenges. Such is the case for Iraqi-American fashion designer, Oday Shakar.
Some are familiar with this Los Angeles based designer’s sumptuous gowns, enveloped with crystals and draped to perfection, which have appeared on such celebrities as Sandra Bullock, Adrina Patridge, and Jennifer Carpenter. But many do not know about the arduous journey Shakar had to take to get to where he is now. From his detainment in Iraq when he was a child, to his battle with cancer, Shakar has channeled his life’s rough patches into his creative process, resulting in some of the most stunning and unique designs on the runway, each a work of finely crafted art.
Aslan Media recently had the chance to speak with Oday Shakar about his upbringing, how he discovered fashion, and what inspires him to design. Growing up in Southern California, Oday Shakar was raised by his Iraqi immigrant parents who came to the United States in the 1970s. With an upbringing he calls “carefree,” Shakar had the freedom to develop a love and appreciation of the visual and performing arts. “I loved to dance, I loved music, and I loved drawing,” says Shakar.
The charmed life that Shakar had as a child was disrupted during a trip to Iraq when he was 12 years old. The Iraqi government detained Shakar for a year, not allowing him to return home to his parents, family, and familiar surroundings. “The government wouldn’t renew our visa to leave the country. I believe they were making it difficult because we were Americans trying to return to the states.” says Shakar.
Shakar’s detainment in Iraq finally ended when the Iraqi government approved their visas, permitting Oday to return home: “We drove to Jordan, then flew to Lebanon to meet my mother, and from there we flew home to California.”
The nightmare of separation from the world he knew and the family he loved and relied upon was finally over. “The experience taught me the value in life. It taught me to appreciate what I have now.”
But coming home to California brought its own challenges. “It was a transitional period for me. After seeing all the destruction in Iraq I was a bit conflicted about where I came from and where I was born.”
The experience was life changing for Shakar on many levels. While detained in Iraq, he was cared for by his aunt, from whom he learned the fine craft of sewing, something that Oday was able to take solace in. “Not only did she teach me craftsmanship,” he remarked “but also pattern making, draping and how to illustrate,” invaluable skills for any designer. This laid the groundwork for Shakar’s entrance into the world of fashion design, compiling his interest in art and beauty with a tangible medium.
His desire to dedicate his life to fashion was cemented on his journey home to the States. “It happened when I saw my first Elie Saab show in Lebanon right after we left Iraq. It was the first time I saw a couture show and I thought it was perfect. It shaped the way I see women,” says Shakar. When the young boy made it back home, he was determined to become a success in the fashion world. “Everyday I sketched and practiced my skills and never gave up on believing that becoming a designer was possible,” he says.
When asked about the way he designs and why he embraces the opulence of beading and rich fabrics Oday replied “being around the items in my family's home, the pieces in my mother’s wardrobe and the imagery I saw while growing up and traveling in the Middle East definitely influenced me.” The decadence that perpetuates his bias cut sheaths encrusted with crystal beading, the elegant drape he employs, exposing the woman’s back, echoes how he sees women “as goddesses and royalty.” It all stems from a hybrid influence of Middle Eastern aesthetics and artistic tropes combined with the feel of design houses such as Elie Saab and Alexander McQueen. Shakar says he designs for garments for “real women,” for the “women in my life, and the women I hope to meet.”
Oday’s star is on the rise, with many celebrities wearing his garments. When asked if the new-found attention has changed him or how he sees himself as a designer he replies: “It has not changed who I am. [That is] another lesson I learned while in Bagdad; never forget who you are. I am honored that these women are my fans and have worn my designs because they embody the Oday Shakar woman—strong, confident and independent.”
Oday is lucky in his life: he has been fortunate to have a strong network of friends and family around him who support his work and artistic ventures. “My family members are my biggest fans; I discuss my work with them all of the time. My sister Amna has played a very large part in my life and has also served as my muse” he says. This close-knit network of family served a vital role for Oday through his battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with fourth stage Thyroid Carsanoma, which he developed due to exposure to radiation while he was detained in Iraq. “Like all the other experiences that were difficult in my life, it only made me stronger” he remarked.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, Oday Shakar has emerged from the challenging phases in his life with brilliance, beauty, and a lust to create the vision he sees in his heart. His dedication to pursue the dream he had as a young boy learning to sew from his aunt has truly paid off. For more information on Oday Shakar, or to see his complete design oeuvre, please visit www.odayshakar.com
By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Contributor